'Rage Megashow' wrestling event brings Israel into the ring

The largest pro-wrestling competition in Israel in over 20 years draws big-name athletes like Kevin von Erich and Tatanka.

The Rage (credit: Nicole Bauke)
Sunday night’s Rage Megashow at the Drive-In Arena in Tel Aviv was the biggest wrestling event in Israel since 1994, including major American pros such as Tatanka and Kevin Von Erich, a favorite among Israeli wrestling fans.
However, the term “Israeli wrestling fans,” does not say much: the sport receives little attention in Israel. This is something Gery Roif, a prominent pioneer in Israeli wrestling, is trying to change.
“Israel is closed-minded when it comes to sports. They like soccer and basketball and that’s about it,” said Roif, known as “Rabbi Swissa” in the ring.
Part of the problem, according to Roif, is that in 1995 Israel’s Board of Education canceled wrestling programs from sports channels because kids were copying the wrestling moves and hurting each other.
The other challenge is getting kids, and adults, interested in watching a sport that relies on staging rather than brute force like some sports.
“It’s not about doing harm to your opponent, it’s about knowing how to fall and make it look good,” said Roif.
For the crowd on Sunday, the fact that the fighting was staged was not a problem. Reality was suspended in the ring and the audience loudly appreciated the body slams, flips, and other moves that were expertly maneuvered by the wrestlers.
“It’s like a soap opera for men,” jokes Roif. “It has all the elements – drama, comedy, suspense, action, sometimes beautiful women. And of course, masculine men.”
Roif hopes to reach a US-based audience with the Israeli matches, and to show Israelis that wrestling is a powerful, beautiful art form. And while the bleachers were not packed on Sunday, the enthusiasm from the fans that were present made up for the smaller attendance.
The crowd cheered and chanted when their favorites came on, collectively booed at the wrestlers that did not manage to gain their sympathy.
They shouted jabs at the wrestlers they did not like, but laughed when the wrestlers played off the insults.
“One of the big aspects is to get fans to relate to what you’re doing. If you lose the fans’ sympathy, you lose,” said Roif. On the other hand, “If you win the battle, fans will feel like they won the battle with you.”
The wrestlers came from Israel, the US and Europe. The fans cheered loudly for Tatanka, a pro wrestler from America and a returning champion in Israel. They chanted, “Welcome back,” and “You’ve still got it,” when he pounced his opponent, Hakem Waqur of Germany.
And when Kevin Von Erich and his two sons, Ross and Marshall, of Hawaii, took the stage at the end of the night, the crowd lost it, screaming and shouting for the wrestler who was deemed later in the night as a “legend across Israel.”
The Von Erich family faced off against Rabbi Swissa of Netanya, Marty Jannetty of Georgia and Jumping Lee of Los Angeles.
“This will go down in history as my greatest match ever,” Von Erich yelled into the microphone after their tagteam victory. “I’m so blessed to be in the Holy Land, God Bless Israel!”